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MSc by Research Programme: Microbial Metal and Mineral Transformations: Significance for Metal Biorecovery and Biodeterioration

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Thursday, July 16, 2020
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About This PhD Project

Project Description

This course allows you to work alongside our world renowned experts from the School of Life Sciences and gain a ’real research’ experience. You will have the opportunity to select a research project from a variety of thematic areas of research.

You will be part of our collaborative working environment and have access to outstanding shared facilities such as microscopy and proteomics. Throughout your year, you will develop an advanced level of knowledge on your topic of interest as well as the ability to perform independent research in the topic area. Alongside basic science training in experimental design, data handling and research ethics, we will help you to develop skills in critical assessment and communication. This will be supported by workshops in scientific writing, presentation skills, ethics, laboratory safety, statistics, public engagement and optional applied bioinformatics.

The period of study is one year full-time or two years part-time research, which includes two months to write up the thesis. Please apply via the UCAS postgraduate application form: https://digital.ucas.com/courses/details?coursePrimaryId=c735d826-42b6-ca1f-50db-2a3ac6f68718

The aim of this project is to examine the processes by which fungi interact with metals, and rock and mineral-based substrates to understand their significance in biodeterioration of the built environment, and as a potential source of novel biomineral products. Transformations of metals and minerals are central to the biogeochemical activities of microorganisms
(1). These processes influence metal speciation, toxicity and mobility, as well as mineral formation or dissolution, and also determine elemental cycles for, e.g. sulfur and phosphorus.

As well as being of environmental significance, such processes can have important consequences for human and societal well-being because the same mechanisms can lead to biodeterioration or biocorrosion of metals, rocks, minerals, and mineral-based substrates, e.g. concrete (2) .In contrast to this, microbial biofilms may form biomineralized crusts on certain metals, e.g. copper, and stone, mineral and concrete surfaces which may provide bioprotection. Therefore, microbial colonization of surfaces in the built environment may have positive or negative consequences, although there is little knowledge of the mechanisms that may control such effects. Fungi are the most visible and destructive of all colonizing microbiota in the built environment. They are effective at metal bioleaching as they produce many metal-complexing metabolites such as organic acids that can solubilize metals (3). Fungi are also very effective in the biomineralization of metals, i.e. conversion into a solid insoluble biomineral form. Such biomineralization arises from activities of the organisms themselves, such as redox transformations, and metabolic activities where metabolites e.g. oxalate, CO2, may precipitate metals as mineral forms (1-3). Where the formation of new biominerals occurs, there may be formation of novel biominerals (4,5) depending on the elemental composition of the substrate: these may act to form protective rock crusts (6). Many such biominerals are formed in the nanoscale and therefore are of potential industrial interest because of their significant catalytic and reactive properties (7). An understanding of fungal metal and mineral transformations processes is relevant not only to understanding biodeterioration of metal and mineral substrates, but also the formation of novel biomineral products that may have relevance in metal bioremediation or biorecovery.

This project will concentrate on a specific aspect within the research theme described and will use an interdisciplinary approach: the student will receive training in geomicrobiology and environmental mineralogy with associated analytical and preparative techniques, including growth and manipulation of experimental organisms, and techniques including atomic absorption spectrophotometry (AAS), X-ray powder diffraction (XRPD), and advanced light and electron microscopy, X-ray element analysis and mapping. There will also be close collaboration with the Division of Civil Engineering regarding mineralogical analyses.

1. Gadd, G.M. (2010). Metals, minerals and microbes: geomicrobiology and bioremediation. Microbiology 156, 609-643.
2. Gadd, G.M. (2017). Geomicrobiology of the built environment. Nature Microbiology 2, Number 16275.
3. Gadd, G.M. (2007). Geomycology: biogeochemical transformations of rocks, minerals, metals and radionuclides by fungi, bioweathering and bioremediation. Mycological Research 111, 3-49.
4. Li, Q., Csetenyi, L. and Gadd, G.M. (2014). Biomineralization of metal carbonates by Neurospora crassa. Environmental Science and Technology 48, 14409-14416.
5. Rhee, Y.J., Hillier, S., and Gadd, G.M. (2012). Lead transformation to pyromorphite by fungi. Current Biology 22 , 237-241.
6.Gadd, G.M. (2017). Fungi, rocks and minerals. Elements 13,171-176.
7. Li, Q., Liu, D., Jia, Z., Csetenyi, L. & Gadd, G.M. (2016). Fungal biomineralization of manganese as a novel source of electrochemical materials. Current Biology 26, 950-955.

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